George Leoni Chesnut, 89, a spy by day and a translator of biblical Greek by night, died April 20 of pneumonia at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.
A translator of more than 50 languages, ancient and modern, he used his linguistic skills at the National Security Agency for more than 30 years as a civilian director of the agency's analytic section. He also taught Spanish part time at George Washington University.
After work, on weekends and in retirement, he translated children's poetry from Chinese to Spanish and English; compiled Serbian and Afghan Pashto dictionaries; translated a French movie script into English; and biblical texts into Dinka, the language of southern Sudan. He considered his work with biblical Greek to be something of a divine calling and conducted seminars on the ancient language for churches.
A polymath who believed in keeping his mind engaged, he calculated license-plate prime numbers while in line at the DMV and allowed others to go ahead of him until the prime-number plate he desired came up.
He also was an accomplished pianist. Although he never discussed his work at the National Security Agency, family members could often determine how things were going in Czechoslovakia or other world hot spots by how many Bach sonatas Mr. Chesnut played when he came home at night. A three-sonata night meant a crisis somewhere in the world.
During World War II, Mr. Chesnut served as an officer in Naval Intelligence. Joining the NSA after his discharge, he was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, serving on Okinawa and Taiwan and in Washington. He returned to the NSA after the war and worked for the agency until his retirement in 1979.
- Washington Post